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History Of Music:
George Frederic Handel
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig Van Beethoven
The Romantic Composers
Development Of The Piano
Famous Operas And Their Composers
Wagner And His Music Dramas
Tristan And Isolde
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Franz Schubert was the virtual founder of the German Lied and was the first to make song the medium for every shade of personal feeling. The story of his life contains little of interest; he lived unknown to the world and was unappreciated all his life. The form known as "song" may he defined as one in which a single thought or sentiment is It is not narrative, but an expression of a single is characterized by simplicity of thought and expressed. mood, and feeling.
"The Lied is distinguished from the earlier forms of solo song (aria, ode) in this respect, that no longer the music but the word-text appears as the chief element. About the middle of the eighteenth century Lied texts were composed to already existing melodies; the modern Lied composer, however, sets music to a poem; he seeks by his art to enhance the effect of the poet's words."'
Schubert was born in a little village near Vienna, January 31, I; 97. When but a child he began the study of music under the direction of his father, who was a school-master with some knowledge of violin-playing. Franz possessed a fine soprano voice and thus gained admittance to the St. Stephen's choir school in Vienna, where he was given instruction in singing and learned something of composition. At the age of sixteen his voice changed and he returned home to begin his work as assistant in his father's school.
He was to a great extent a self-educated musician, for, although his rare gifts attracted his teachers' attention, he was a constant puzzle to them, and he never found any one who could give him the rigid training he needed. He seemed to learn by intuition, as one of his instructors explained: "Whenever I wanted to teach him anything new, I found that he had already mastered it." During the years in which he taught with his father he found time to write a vast amount of music, among which were some of his finest songs-"The Erl-King" and "The Wanderer."
The value of his songs was first discovered by Vogl, a famous tenor singer in Vienna. It was he who persuaded him to leave the school drudgery and devote himself entirely to music. So upon his advice Schubert went to Vienna and joined a little group of talented young men of literary and musical tastes, and soon became the leader of the circle. From this time on his career was one of unbroken activity in composition.
Schubert could not gain the recognition of publishers and none of his works were printed until four years before his death. His life seems melancholy and even distressing in its lack of all that he, as a true genius, might have commanded, but it was not so to him. If he was a poor man he at least had a poor man's tastes, and thus knew nothing of the bitter ness that has filled so many composers' lives. He is described as "a short, stout man, with round shoulders, thick, blunt fingers, low forehead, projecting lips, stumpy nose, and short curly hair." Unattractive physically and fond of gay Bohemian life, he was always ill at ease in the best society.
"To drink his mug of beer and eat his sausage, to flirt with pretty servant-maids and peasant girls, to discourse youthful philosophy and play practical jokes with convivial poets, painters and students, above all to fill realms of paper with the melodies that were always flooding his brain-this was his conception of sufficing happiness."
His compositions are marked by a tinge of melancholy, but this was due to his natural temperament rather than his unfortunate circumstances. Although he was not a dissi pated man, his irregular habits necessarily undermined his vitality, and he was unable to recover from a fever to which he fell victim. He died at the age of thirty-one, just as he was entering the prime of life.
The German art song exists in three different forms: (1) Stanza form, in which the same music is given to all stanzas; (2) Modified stanza form, in which the music of the last stanza differs from that of the others, and (3) The ThroughComposed (durchcomponirt) form, in which there is no division of music into stanzas, the melody being continuous. This is, of course, the highest form of song and the one most often employed by Schubert.
His songs were vastly different from the operatic style and required a different kind of singing. This partially explains why they were so little known to his contemporaries; it took time to develop the lyric quality in the art of singing. Schubert appeared at a time when a new school of German poetry was being produced, the style of which was in perfect sympathy with his. He possessed in an intense degree poetic imagination and his melodies are wedded to the poems he used. His greatest genius was in the emphasis he laid upon the accompaniments of his songs; he was the first to reveal the possibilities of the piano accompaniment.
Although Schubert is best known as the creator of the German Lied, he has written many instrumental works, some of them of great value. He was just beginning to show his real ability in this field when an untimely death put an end to his career. It is probable that, had he lived to an old age, Schubert could not have surpassed his best songs, but his instrumental compositions would certainly have shown a steadily-developing genius. His unfinished symphony in B minor, the one in C, and his string quartets portray a marked originality and are unsurpassed in musical beauty.
Schubert's piano works are known today by all piano students, but many of the shorter compositions show an unevenness of treatment, a confusion and even laxness of style that is probably due to his lack of early training. Interspersed throughout the loveliest melodies-which, by the way, are often better suited to songs than instrumental pieces-are passages of trifling themes that cover pages with their monotonous repetitions, and seem carelessly thrown in as mere "padding" rather than a part of a carefully conceived form. The best of this group are the fantasie in C, waltzes and impromptus.
Notwithstanding the fact that it was his chief aim to write a good opera, in this field he invariably failed, for he did not possess the dramatic gift; his style was purely lyric. The romantic traits are not as pronounced in Schubert's compositions as in those of Weber; he is the link that joins the Classic and the Romantic schools, and displays many of the characteristics of both.
"The Serenade," "Am Meer," which suggests the majesty of the sea, "Hark! Hark! the Lark," one of the loveliest songs in existence, "The Wanderer," "The Erl-King," and "Sylvia" are a few of the songs by which he is most widely known. But there are others which better reveal the real depth and grandeur of his style: "Du bist die Ruh," "Der Tod und das Madchen," and the song cycles "Die schone Mullerin" and "Die Winterreise." Schubert wrote in all over 450 songs, dramatic pieces, chamber music (trios, quartets, etc. ), nine symphonies, twenty-four sonatas for piano, and a large number of miscellaneous pieces.
Never did death come to a composer more inopportunely. It is impossible to tell to what heights this genius might have risen, had he been allowed to continue the work so nobly begun.